SEARSPORT, Maine — During the annual town meeting this week, residents will decide whether or not to build a new fire station in the north end of town and also choose between two very different candidates for the board of selectmen.
Lifelong resident Travis Otis and retiree Meredith Ares are facing off for a three-year term on the board of selectmen. Voters will cast ballots between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 5, at the Public Safety Building. Besides picking a selectman, voters also will also choose nine members of the budget advisory committee and decide whether to re-elect Percy King, the RSU 20 director who is running uncontested for another three-year term.
Otis, a lobsterman who builds boats through Otis Enterprises Marine Corp., is vice president of the Maine Lobster Boat Racing Association. He said Monday that he wants to help foster the sense of community in Searsport that he remembers growing up there.
“I feel like I should give back to the town that’s given me so much over the years,” he said. “It’s a good place to live, and I feel that with a little guidance, it’d be an excellent place to live.”
Otis said that he does not want to see the gap between people from away and longtime residents get wider, but that he would like to see people working together. He said he also wants to help Searsport and its various businesses find a common theme that would promote all of them, as some other communities have done.
“Then the economy should perk back up,” Otis said. “Then we wouldn’t need one business to come in — we don’t need a Walmart knocking on our door. Yeah, it’s jobs, and it’s revenue, but it’s not good-paying jobs … economic development is a slippery slope. You can’t be solely focused on dollar signs. There’s no golden egg to drop out of the sky. You’ve got to be balanced.”
Ares moved to Searsport full-time after retiring several years ago following a career in the manufacturing and insurance industries.
“I love the town. I’m a taxpayer and a homeowner,” she said.
She said that when she ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the state Legislature last fall, door-to-door campaigning around town was eye-opening.
“When I went out into the town and up into the hills, I was shocked to realize the extent of the hardship there is in our area,” Ares said. “I’m disappointed in the way Searsport has handled the staggering economy. We need to do more to bring in jobs.”
She said that if elected, she would like to get together with other residents to find ways to revitalize the community, as Belfast has done immediately to the south.
“You don’t see empty storefronts there,” she said.
After the municipal election, the Searsport annual town meeting will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday at Searsport District High School. Town Manager James Gillway said that the biggest decision for the community will be whether or not to build a new fire station on Mount Ephraim Road, on land that was purchased for this purpose a couple of years ago in a special town meeting. If citizens don’t want to build a station there, the town will sell the property, according to the parameters set in that special town meeting.
“The need exists. The old station is not adequate for fire response today,” Gillway said. “It’s not nearly big enough. They put an addition on it eight years ago. Even the addition was obsolete as soon as it was finished.”
The total project cost is not to exceed $762,000, according to the article in the warrant for the annual town meeting.
Gillway said that if voters do not want to build the station this year, they also have the choice to extend the ownership of the property.
In other business, residents will be asked whether they want to set money aside for the Small Harbor Improvement Program grant, which requires a minimum 20 percent match from participating communities. Gillway said that a key project is the town wharf, which needs to be repaired.
“I suspect we’ll be faced with the dilemma of possibly closing it if we don’t get it fixed,” he said.